Summary: Based on Isaiah 40:1-5 and Matthew 3:1-12, this is a Sermon for any Sunday in Advent. It’s thesis is that to truly be prepared for Christmas and the Return of Jesus one must be born again and explains how the Holy Spirit enables that to happen.
PREPARE THE WAY OF THE LORD
Advent is the time of preparation for the coming of Jesus Christ in celebration of His nativity and anticipation of His Return. The message of John the Baptizer, who prepared Judea for the First Coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, greatly assists us in our personal preparations for the Coming of Jesus in this Holy Season .
Our text today from Isaiah 40 is the basis for the opening tenor recitative “Comfort Ye My People” and its companion aria “Every Valley Shall Be Exalted in Handel’s MESSIAH.” Isaiah prophesies the ministry of John the Baptizer, the Forerunner of our Lord Jesus Christ:
“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.’”
Isaiah’s prophecy is fulfilled in our text from Matthew, chapter three.
Our Old Testament and Gospel Lessons speak to us on two different levels—one literal, the other one spiritual. John the Baptizer conducted most of his ministry in the “Wilderness of Judea.” What is a wilderness? One meaning of the term is “lonesome.” Much of this area is a remote, secluded, forsaken, sequestered place. “The Wilderness of Judea” basically is a wasteland bordering the banks of the Jordan River near its entrance into the Dead Sea and extending several miles inland. It is a desert area which is too dry, rough, and rocky for farming but somewhat suitable for grazing. This is the territory where Jesus was tempted by Satan. “Way” and “paths” are terms describing a public road, a highway.
There was little progress in highway construction until the time of the Roman Empire. In earliest times road work was very simple. Stones were simply removed from the pathway, bumps were leveled, and pot holes were filled. When a dignitary, particularly an emperor or a king, would make a State Visit, it was the custom to “Prepare the Way for the Lord.” This meant major road repairs. All the mountains or the bumps in the roads were made low. The valleys, the ruts, and potholes were exalted to “make way for the Coming of the King” [SOURCE: Ralph Gower, The New Manners and Customs of Bible Times (Chicago: Moody Press, 1987), and 230.].
A herald was a royal officer who proclaimed the king’s messages and decrees to the people. If the king was making a State Visit to one of the cities or provinces in his kingdom, the herald would run ahead of his chariot and announce his coming. This is a perfect, poetic description of the ministry of John, the Forerunner of the Jesus. He prepared God’s people for the coming of their Messiah-King.
We’ve set the background and scene for John’s ministry, but preparation for the coming of Jesus Christ is spiritual in nature, and John’s ministry was on a spiritual level. The blessings of Advent will never be found in the hustle and bustle of shopping for gifts for family and friends, sending Christmas cards, baking candy and cookies, attending Holiday parties, or perhaps not even in the singing of favorite Christmas carols. JESUS CHRIST IS THE REASON FOR CHRISTMAS, and this is where we must place our priority if we are to experience the joy and blessings of the Season. John guides us onto the proper road in preparing for the coming of our Messiah-King.
John was a voice speaking for Jesus Christ. The term voice implies “crying aloud.” He cried aloud as a prophet of God; His voice was a prophet’s voice; therefore, his message was authoritative. The voice of the prophet is accepted as “the voice of the Lord,” and obeying the message of the prophet brings reward to God’s people.
Jesus is God’s Supreme Prophet, His ultimate voice. God proclaimed the prophetic ministry of Jesus through Moses in Deuteronomy 18:18-19, “I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their own people; I will put my words in the mouth of the prophet, who shall speak to them everything that I command. Anyone who does not heed the words that the prophet shall speak in my name, I myself will hold accountable.” God always blesses the people who obey His message as spoken through all His prophets, especially through His Son Jesus.
The urgency of John’s message becomes crystal clear when we realize his voice was a “crying” voice. This means he “called out loudly in order to get the people’s attention.” Such was the ministry of God’s chosen prophets. The one who cries “declares a prophetic message,” and the specific way the term is used by Isaiah denotes that John shared his prophetic message with “invited guests.”
God’s invitation was extended to everyone who heard John preach; they all were invited to enter into the Kingdom of heaven. Paul reminds us throughout the book of Romans that this same invitation is extended to everyone or to “whosoever will.” Remember Romans 1:16, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile.” Today John cries with a loud voice to get our attention as he did to his Judean congregation almost two thousand years ago, “The Holy Spirit invites you to enter the eternal kingdom of heaven.” His invitation is for each one of us, and we either accept or reject as we personally choose.